WASHINGTON _ Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood laid out rules Thursday on the number of hours that truckers can stay on the road in an effort to curb deadly accidents caused by driver fatigue. But neither the trucking industry nor safety advocates appeared satisfied.
The new rules, which take effect July 1, 2013, reduce the number of hours truckers can work in a week to 70 hours from 82, but retain the Bush-era limit of 11 hours behind the wheel each day. Safety advocates had pushed for a 10-hour limit. Truckers also must work no more than eight hours without taking a 30-minute break.
"This final rule will help prevent fatigue-related truck crashes and save lives," LaHood said in a statement. "Truck drivers deserve a work environment that allows them to perform their jobs safely."
Trucking companies that let drivers stay on the road more than 11 hours could face fines of $11,000, and individual drivers could face civil penalties of as much as $2,750.
"With robust input from all areas of the trucking community, coupled with the latest scientific research, we carefully crafted a rule acknowledging that when truckers are rested, alert and focused on safety, it makes our roadways safer," said Anne Ferro, the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Bill Graves, the president and chief executive of the American Trucking Association, said the new rules would be costly.
"Both the trucking industry and consumers will suffer the impact of reduced productivity and higher costs," said Dan England, the chairman of the American Trucking Association.
Graves said the group would consider its legal options to fight the new rules. "If there is a positive in this rule, it is the lengthy period of time before it becomes effective," he said.
To some highway safety advocates, the rules don't go far enough.
"Most truck drivers admit they drive while tired, and nearly half said they fell asleep behind the wheel at least once in the previous year under the existing rule," said Henry Jasny, the vice president and general counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "By keeping the unsafe portion of the rule that permits truckers to drive for 11 consecutive hours, department officials have broken their promise to make safety their No. 1 priority."
While overall highway deaths fell last year to their lowest level since 1949, according to the Department of Transportation, truck-related fatalities rose 8.7 percent in 2010. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported 3,675 fatalities last year related to large trucks, a figure that includes truck drivers and vehicle passengers.
The daily driver limit had been 10 hours since the 1930s, but President George W. Bush's administration increased it to 11 hours in 2003. The American Trucking Association said that truck fatalities have dropped since the increase took effect.
"Even with an uptick in truck-involved fatalities in 2010, since the current rules went into effect in 2004, fatalities have fallen 29.9 percent, even as overall miles traveled for trucks has risen by tens of billions of miles," England said.